Friday, September 13, 2013

Don’t Misfire When You Have to Fire

How to properly fire in the medical practice
Firing a staff member ranks near the top of most personnel managers’ list of dreaded tasks. The emotion and drama can unnerve you and shake your self-confidence; you may wonder, "Am I doing the right thing?" Diligently following clear policies and procedures when hiring, training, and supervising staffers will shore up your confidence and protect your practice from sometimes serious legal consequences.

Chances are that if you manage a medical practice long enough, you will eventually face the need to terminate an employee. The process is both gut wrenching and surrounded by ethical and legal pitfalls. Clearly communicated expectations and regular performance reviews create an environment of accountability. When all efforts to correct an employee fail, and it’s time to "pull the trigger," your previous efforts leave you with a foundation of confidence and a clear conscience that you gave the employee a fair chance.

Begin by communicating your expectations in writing—with every staff member. Job descriptions including lines of authority, scope of job, and specific tasks show employees what you expect. Set up and follow regular employee evaluations with clear goals for better performance. Document
all efforts for correction and improvement. Serious infractions that disrupt the practice need immediate attention. Keep careful records of violations, warnings, and remedial efforts. When all else fails, it’s time to plan for termination. To proceed confidently and to minimize
legal risks, follow these tips:
  • Prepare a simple termination letter to be hand delivered by you at a private meeting.
  • Determine who should attend the termination meeting. Include at least two management level employees to conduct and witness the encounter.
  • Determine the best time to meet, which is not Friday afternoon because the terminated employee cannot do anything about looking for another job or applying for unemployment over the weekend. Deliver the message when as few other employees are around as possible. Make the day of the meeting the last day of the terminated employee’s work.
  • Determine where to meet. Privacy is the key ingredient.
  • Determine what you will say about the reason for termination. Document the details of the meeting as part of the employee’s personnel file. If you fire a staffer without a specific reason (“not for cause”), you don’t have to be very specific. However, it’s a good idea to explain why you are terminating the employee.
  • When firing someone for more serious infractions that compromise safety or threaten your practice’s integrity (“for cause”), you may want to invest in a consultation with your attorney to maximize your protection should the incident spark litigation.
Attend to the following details regardless of the type of termination:
  1. Final paycheck. Make clear what money will be paid and when. Make sure you have a current address if the check is to be mailed.
  2. Personal items. Place boxes near the staffer’s workspace to make it easier to pack up personal items.
  3. Getting home. Make sure the employee has the resources to get home, which is especially important if he or she uses public transportation.
  4. References. Explain to the employee how you will respond to reference requests. If, for example, you take the legally conservative approach,
  5. let him or her know that you will disclose only dates of employment, position, last salary, and eligibility for re-hire.
  6. Practice assets. Be sure to obtain any keys, passes, etc. that belong to the company, and change locks, pass codes, and other security safeguards when a staffer leaves. Remind the employee that he or she is still obligated to maintain patient and company confidentiality. 
Be sure to allow the staffer to express himself or herself before the meeting concludes within the limits of professional behavior. Sometimes you can learn something useful, and the staffer gets a chance to vent a little. After the staffer leaves the office, inform the remaining workers of your decision right away. If you delay, the rumor mill will fill in the information gaps and increase the disruption.
If you enjoy reading the blog entries in "Solving Problems in the Medical Practice" you may want to check out all the great products at Greenbranch Publishing.

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